Can Caffeine Improve Your Performance?

Can Caffeine Improve Your Performance?

Caffeine hasn’t always had the best reputation. It’s a stimulant, a diuretic and it’s commonly found in sugary beverages like soda and energy drinks.

Yet, when used properly, the benefits of caffeine largely outweigh the negatives.

Caffeine may help prevent the onset of Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, liver disease and some types of cancer. Caffeine also improves circulation, heart and brain function and reduces the risk of a stroke. There are even more health benefits when you get your caffeine from black teas and coffee, thanks to high amounts of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

Caffeine has a large influence on your metabolism and can bolster fat loss, improve your strength and endurance, and reduce your pain and recovery times.

Whether your goal is weight loss, increasing strength and endurance, or you just really love coffee, caffeine can give you the edge you need to improve your overall performance.

Understanding how caffeine works in your body will help you integrate it into your routine effectively. Let’s take a look at the science behind caffeine and its impact on your workout.

Caffeine and Your Workout

Fit man in squat position lifting kettle bell in a gym

Fat Loss

The faster your metabolism is, the more calories your body burns for energy. Consuming caffeine before your workout heightens your heart rate and blood pressure - increasing your metabolism. Which means you’re burning even more calories every time you work hard.

Not only does caffeine increase your metabolic rate - it alters the order of macronutrients you’re metabolising.

Typically, the first source of energy from calories your body uses are the sugars from carbohydrates, whereas fat cells are the last to be burned. This is why you do cardio after working out if you want to lose fat. You need to keep your body moving to ensure your body has used all of it’s glycogen and is now burning the fat.

Caffeine promotes burning fat first - by stimulating your central nervous system to signal the oxidation of fat cells instead of carbohydrates. Burning fat cells throughout your workout is a huge advantage to a goal of losing weight quickly and safely.

Improves Performance

Caffeine has been shown to decrease muscle pain both during and after your workout. Feeling less pain during your workout means you can work harder and longer. Feeling less pain after your workout means you can get back to the gym right away, since you can still move your legs.

During Your workout

Incorporating caffeine into your pre workout routine can have a huge impact on your strength and endurance. The stimulating effects of caffeine on your central nervous system prevent your muscles from becoming fatigued and the pain relieving abilities dull muscle pain.

This study found that when participants took 5mg of caffeine per kilogram of bodyweight one hour before a workout, they were able to complete more repetitions in their final set.

Another study showed enhanced endurance in runners and cyclists who perceived feeling less exertion when caffeinated.

After Your workout

Whether you just got back to the gym or you pushed through a particularly tough workout, everyone has experienced stiff and sore muscles in the days following. This is known as delayed onset muscle soreness.

If you want to avoid DOMS, caffeine is the way to go. Research found caffeine to be even more effective than ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen in relieving symptoms.

Improves Focus

The main benefit people associate with coffee is that it wakes you up.  It’s the boost you need to get going in the morning or a cure for the afternoon slump. Caffeine stimulates faster brain function with an increase of blood flow to the brain, making you more alert and focussed.

Caffeine has the same effect on your workout - you feel full of energy and motivation to hit the gym, your mood is positive and you can focus longer. You’ll be more aware of your form and have better coordination.

Forms of Caffeine

Black coffee being poured form a an urn into a coffee cup

Some caffeine sources are better than others, and some should be outright avoided. Regardless of your goal or your taste buds, there’s a healthy way to get your caffeine fix.

Best Sources Of Caffeine

Brewed Coffee

Coffee is the most potent natural form of caffeine. It’s packed full of antioxidants, most notably flavonoids, which help your immune system battle viruses, allergies and inflammation and helps reduce pain from sore muscles. Black coffee is easy to digest before a workout and you’ll feel effects within half an hour.

Pro Tip: Lattes don’t count - drink your coffee black. If you can’t take it straight up, add honey, almond milk or other healthy alternatives to cream and sugar.
Caffeine Content: 90 - 120 mg per 250 ml (approx 1 mug of coffee)

Even though tea leaves technically contain more caffeine than coffee beans, much of the caffeine is diluted with water when brewing. Tea is a great alternative to coffee but you will need to drink more of it to get the same effect - black teas have about half the caffeine of coffee, and white teas have about a third.

Pro Tip: You can get the most caffeine out of your tea by choosing dark teas like Oolong or Black tea and brewing as long as possible - the hotter the water and the longer the brew, the higher the caffeine content.
Caffeine Content: 40 - 50 mg per 250 ml (approx 1.5 tea cups)
Caffeine Supplements

If hot drinks before your workout are not your thing you can get your caffeine boost through a supplemental source. Caffeine can come in capsules to be taken with your pre-workout meal, or you can shake it up with a pre-workout powder mix. You can choose the right caffeine supplement routine depending on your goal.

Pro Tip: For weight loss, take a green coffee capsule. The active ingredients will slow the rate of carb metabolism and speed up fat metabolism. For maximum strength and endurance use a pre-workout mix.  A powder combination like caffeine with creatine and essential amino acids will give you a massive energy boost for a long and intense workout.
Caffeine Content: 80 mg per 2 capsules. 300 mg per powder serving.

Caffeine To Avoid

Soft Drinks

Many fizzy drinks have as much caffeine as tea but should be limited in your diet due to the high sugar content. The carbonation in soft drinks can upset your stomach before or during your workout - so if you must have your Dr Pepper before a workout - drink it flat.

Canned or Bottled Coffee Drinks

These convenience coffees have just as much caffeine as the real thing. But, much like fizzy drinks, premade coffee drinks are full of added sugars and preservatives. Nothing beats a freshly brewed hot or iced coffee and it’s just as easy to pick up on the way on the gym.

Energy Drinks and Shots

Energy drinks and shots can pack a ton of caffeine in one serving - from 80 to over 200 mg per can or shot. But - you guessed it - added sugar. In 2016, nearly 4 million brits favored Redbull for an energy boost. At 83 mg of caffeine per can, you could easily swap the sugar for one cup of coffee or a caffeine capsule for the same dose.

How Much is Too Much?

As with all things in life, it’s all about balance. Consume enough caffeine and you’re taking your workout to the next level. Consume too much and you’re over-stimulating your body - causing jitters, elevated blood pressure, heart rate and racing thoughts.

The benchmark for maximum daily caffeine consumption is 400 mg

This represents about 4 cups of coffee, 8 cups of tea or 1 serving of pre-workout mix with a little wiggle room.

Be Consistent

When you’re steady with your caffeine intake, your body naturally adjusts to counter dehydration. This means you’ve built a tolerance and your body isn’t going to feel the boost unless you increase your dosage.

If you’re not a regular caffeine consumer, start low. About 100 mg is enough to feel the benefits. As your body adjusts (you stop noticing the effects), increase the dose by 100mg.

If you already consume daily caffeine, you will need to maintain and exceed the amount to feel the extra energy. Add an extra 100 mg to your usual caffeine consumption before a workout.

If you’re already consuming the maximum daily amount of caffeine (or more), slowly reduce your intake over time. Once you’ve adjusted to 300mg or less, you can start adding the pre workout caffeine back in.

What To Remember

When taken strategically, caffeine can be a game changer to your workout routine. You’ll be rewarded with more energy, strength and endurance. You will experience less muscle pain during workouts and shorter recovery periods. You’ll have more motivation to hit the gym and more focus and awareness while you’re there.  

  • Maintain a consistent daily dose of caffeine to avoid any ill side effects
  • Consume extra caffeine between ½ hour to 1 hour before workout for maximum energy
  • Consume extra caffeine on rest days for relief of sore muscles
  • Drink extra water to combat dehydration
  • Don’t exceed more than 400 mg of caffeine per day